Editorial: Missteps and marathon meetings in Barrington

Posted 2/3/21

It’s been quite a week for the Town of Barrington, beginning with the stumbling missteps of the Covid-19 vaccination rollout and ending with a six-hour-plus Town Council meeting so unwieldy it …

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Editorial: Missteps and marathon meetings in Barrington


It’s been quite a week for the Town of Barrington, beginning with the stumbling missteps of the Covid-19 vaccination rollout and ending with a six-hour-plus Town Council meeting so unwieldy it is difficult to put into words.

Some will criticize the local newspaper for once again relaying its pessimistic views of the local government, but stop reading when you find something NOT worth criticizing.

In a five-day stretch, town leadership …

  • On Thursday afternoon sent a confusing email about the sudden availability of 47 doses of vaccine. The top of the digital flyer, in large letters, announced that residents ages 75 and older needed to register, in person, between 9 and 11 a.m. the next morning at Town Hall. The bottom of the email, in a smaller font, stated that people should call the senior center to reserve the vaccine. Many residents read to the bottom and discovered the “call” message, triggering a frantic flood of phone calls to town offices.
  • The town’s message failed to mention that it had already allocated 33 of its doses for residents of congregate senior housing. There’s nothing wrong with taking that approach, but the lack of transparency invites doubt and speculation.
  • Within minutes, town employees began taking down names, and all available doses were almost immediately reserved, first-come, first-served. The rest of the population, having no idea what was going on, continued to frantically call the town offices, some trying up to 100 times but getting busy signals.
  • On Friday morning, as any reasonable person would expect, confused senior citizens showed up early and tried to register at Town Hall. The doors were locked. It was the coldest day of the year.
  • Who did town leaders blame for the situation? In ways subtle or direct, they pointed the finger at the state, the panicked population and the Barrington Times. Someone at Town Hall even told distressed residents to call the newspaper to find out about the vaccine. The only people they did not blame is themselves.
  • By Monday, Barrington leaders had begun to notice that other towns were doing things differently. Portsmouth created a new email address and dedicated a particular phone line for senior citizens to register. Bristol opened all registrations at 8 a.m. Monday morning, either online or via phone — after first sending out press releases and posting social media messages days in advance — and announcing that they would take down everyone’s information, then work in reverse order, from oldest to youngest, as vaccines become available. Warren followed a very similar process.
  • By Monday night, at the regular town council meeting, the town manager and council president confidently talked about all they had done to create a registration system, work from oldest to youngest, and work through a special needs registry. Not once did they acknowledge the role they had played in creating two days of confusion, frustration and mistrust. Not once did they apologize or admit fault.
  • Then came the most absurd of council meetings — more than six hours for one of the lightest agendas one could imagine. For more than three hours, the council listened to dozens of people with passionate speeches about flags and symbols and racism and inclusion. Some spoke two or three separate times. One in five were not even Barrington residents, some of them commanding the town’s attention for 10 minutes or more throughout the night.
  • By Tuesday morning, between midnight and 1 a.m., the council was finally ready to vote. In a process all too common in Barrington, the council word-smithed a flag policy that no one could see. In other towns, they create a proposal, publish that proposal and then make amendments to that proposal. In Barrington, they create a proposal, individually suggested edits between themselves via email, and then publicly talk about line edits, revisions and amendments to a document that no one has seen or could possibly follow.
  • Then they finally voted, unanimously, on two issues. First, they passed a flag policy that says they can do everything they’ve already shown they can do — fly any flag they want any time they want. Why they needed a town ordinance and four hours of discussion to certify they can do everything they already do, is unclear.
  • Secondly, they voted to fly the Black Lives Matter flag for the month of February. Why that was necessary is also unclear, since they’ve been flying that flag since September. Apparently it has something to do with the symbolism of actually voting to fly it for Black History Month, even though if they had done nothing, it would have been flying for Black History Month.
  • In the final show of “silly things taking on oversized importance,” some councilors argued that flying the Black Lives Matter flag only for the month of February might not be symbolic enough. Since February is the shortest month of the year, they wanted the flag to fly for a full 31 days — because that would send an even stronger message about Barrington’s values. So instead of coming down at the end of Black History Month, it will remain until March 3. And that will make everyone feel better. Because as everyone knows, symbolism always matters more than good government.

2021 by East Bay Newspapers

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Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.